11/27/2003 1:00AM

Commendation a question on dirt

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - What is known about Commendation is that he can run on the grass. Four of his five starts have been on grass, and he has won three of those, including the Bourbon County Stakes last month at Keeneland.

What is not known about Commendation is whether he might eventually be equally adept on dirt. And that is what trainer Graham Motion intends to start finding out Saturday when he saddles Commendation for Courtlandt Farms in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.

"This time of year, it's the time to find out," said Motion.

Commendation's lone dirt attempt came in his career debut in July at Saratoga, where he was beaten 24 1/2 lengths. "I don't think that first race was a very fair test," said Motion. "He certainly works well on dirt, although I know that sometimes that can be misleading."

Motion said he is encouraged by Commendation's pedigree. The 2-year-old colt is by Capote out of Felicita, making him a half-brother to Take Charge Lady, the 4-year-old filly who has earned more than $2.4 million by racing exclusively on dirt.

"Nothing in his pedigree says grass," said Motion. "Whatever happens Saturday, he'll go on to Florida. Whether his immediate future is on dirt or grass, we'll have to see."

A mild upset by Commendation would cap a terrific fall in Kentucky for Motion, who is based on the East Coast. Motion won the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup for Courtlandt at Keeneland last month with Film Maker.

Awesome Humor injured, retired

Awesome Humor, a Grade 1 winner who finished first or second in all but one of her 11 career starts, was scratched Thursday from the Falls City Handicap and has been retired, said trainer Elliott Walden.

Awesome Humor was diagnosed with minor swelling in her right front ankle, prompting the decision to retire her. "She's done so much and has just been remarkable," said Walden.

Owned by WinStar Farm, Awesome Humor finishes her career with 6 wins, 4 seconds, and $848,950 in earnings. Her biggest win came in the Grade 1 Spinaway at Saratoga in August 2002. A 3-year-old filly by Distorted Humor, she was trained early in her career by Ronny Werner before WinStar bought her.

Long list of walking wounded

This has been a hazardous meet for the Churchill jockey colony. In a span of 22 racing days, there were eight jockeys who either suffered injuries in spills or accidents, or avoided serious injury when a mount fell or broke down.

This is the banged-up list:

Robby Albarado: Expected back next week at Fair Grounds after suffering a wrist fracture in a Nov. 1 paddock accident when getting aboard Honoramongthieves before the first race.

Rafael Bejarano: Missed the balance of the Nov. 19 card after his mount in the third race, Eaglez Crown, threw him hard to the ground when clipping heels on the backstretch.

Calvin Borel: Averted serious injury when thrown hard to the ground when Finally Here suffered a fatal breakdown in the ninth race Nov. 5.

Jose Delgado: Missed two days with a sore wrist after City Diamond, his scheduled mount for the first race Nov. 14, threw him in the paddock runway.

Dallas King: Avoided injury when Megann's Fame suffered a fatal heart attack during the sixth race Wednesday.

Corey Lanerie: Missed most of two days with a deep thigh bruise after Sweet Jo Jo suffered a fatal breakdown in the Nov. 1 Pocahontas Stakes.

John McKee: Took off several mounts when he suffered a minor shoulder injury after Tropical Storm threw him in the post parade before the fifth race Nov. 14.

Shane Sellers: Several incidents limited his mounts at the meet. He was thrown to the turf following the seventh race Oct. 30 after Atticus Lace broke down while galloping out; suffered a painful bout with the gout in early November; and suffered a deep tailbone bruise when thrown in the paddock by Chief Negotiator before the seventh race Nov. 6.

Sellers and Pat Day took off all of their mounts Thursday. Sellers, still bothered by the tailbone injury, was expected to ride Crafty Shaw in the Clark on Friday and The Cliff's Edge in the KJC. Day took off with sinus problems and also was expected back for the last two days.

Day already has wrapped up his 34th Churchill riding title. Trainer Dale Romans and owners Ken and Sarah Ramsey also will be easy winners in their respective categories.

Johnston defies skeptics

By winning two races at Churchill on Wednesday, jockey Mark Johnston probably helped his cause toward the Turfway Park meet that starts Sunday. Johnston, a native Kentuckian who starred for 12 years on the Maryland circuit, won aboard Colonel Day to in the fourth race and longshot Minister Lady in the seventh.

"It has to help," said Johnston, who stands nearly 5-foot-10. "Whenever I go someplace new, there's controversy about my height, but once people see that I can ride, things start breaking loose."

* Turfway stakes coordinator Randy Wehrman is expecting about 10 fillies and mares for the opening-day feature, the $50,000 Holiday Inaugural. The list of probables for the six-furlong race is headed by Don't Countess Out, winner of the Weekend Delight in September.

* Veteran trainer Billy Ashabraner was in stable condition Thursday at Jewish Hospital after suffering a heart attack in the Paddock Pavilion the previous afternoon.